Later Chola Temples

by S. R. Balasubrahmanyam | 1979 | 143,852 words

This volume of Chola Temples covers Kulottunga I to Rajendra III in the timeframe A.D. 1070-1280. The Cholas of Southern India left a remarkable stamp in the history of Indian architecture and sculpture. Besides that, the Chola dynasty was a successful ruling dynasty even conquering overseas regions....

Melakkadambur is an obscure village in the Chidambaram taluk of the South Arcot district. It is about 32 km. by road from Chidambaram and 4 km. from Kattumannarkoyil (or Kattu-mannargudi) which was a city founded by Parantaka I and named Viranarayanapuram or Viranarayana chaturvedimangalam after one of his surnames. It is 6.5 km. north-west of Omampuliyur. About a kilometre and a half in an easterly direction from this temple is Kadambur-llangoyil, a vaippu-stalam.

Amritaghatesvara temple

At Melakkadambur, there is a Siva temple which is at least as old as the days of the Tamil saint Appar of the 7th century a.d. He has sung hymns on this Lord. He called the place Tirukka-dambur and the temple here Karakkoyil. According to local tradition, Indra is said to have worshipped the Lord here and obtained nectar; hence the temple has the alternate current name of Amritaghatesvaram. A fragmentary inscription found on one of the slabs used in the pavement of the prakara of this temple gives Kadambur the alternate name of Uttama Chola chaturvedi-mangalam (ARE 112 of 1946-47). Thus, it is clear that a temple was in existence at the site even during the Early Chola period.

On the outer wall of the ardhamandapa, below the sculptures of Agastya and Ardhanari, is found an inscription of the 43rd year of Kulottunga I beginning with one of his many historical introductions, Pugal madu vilanga (ARE 110 of 1946-47). It records the provision made for burning a perpetual lamp by the Mahesvaras of the temple which is mentioned as being located at Mekkattuk-kadambur in Virudarajabhayankara valanadu, for six kasus received by them from Iraiyur Kilavan Eraman Sanan of Iraiyur situated in Velima nadu in Urrukkattuk kottam included in Jayangondasola mandalam. There is also an earlier inscription of Kulottunga 1 dated in his 41st year. It is thus clear that this temple was an Early Chola one rebuilt of stone sometime before his 4lst or, in the latest, 43rd year (a.d. 1113). This gets confirmation from the style of its architecture and sculptures.

The temple faces east. After passing through the main gateway of the gopuram, one finds the porch and a closed mandapa of a later period, in which are housed a number of fine old bronzes.

On reaching the southern prakara, there bursts into view a unique monument of Dravidian art, a graceful temple in its original form covered with sculptures almost from the bottom to the top, a veritable sculpture-gallery of the early twelfth century a.d. It is in sharp contrast to many other temples, whose pristine glory has been greatly altered, if not completely spoiled, by the modern renovator.

This temple is planned in the shape of a chariot on wheels, two on each side, drawn by caparisoned horses in a prancing posture. It was conceived of as a heavenly chariot come down to earth with the Lord as its occupant.

The main structure of the temple rests on an upapitham on whose sides are placed the wheels of the chariot on axles, realistically carved.

Above it rises the adhishtanam consisting pf a few mouldings; the upanam, the padmam, the kandam, the kumudam with ribbed edges and the agarappattiyal. There are panels of bas-reliefs between the last two.

The temple as rebuilt in the days of Kulottunga I consists of the gavbhagriha and the ardhamandapa. There are three deva-koshtas on the walls of the garbhagriha. The deities housed in these niches are Dakshinamurti (south), Vishnu (west) and Brahma (north). Each devakoshta has a projecting porch which rests on two tall pillars. It has a cornice, adorned with an ornamental kudu on its facade. Above the cornice is a frieze of with twisted tails. Each devakoshta is crowned with a huge decorated kudu with a simhalalatam as its top (kirtimukha).

Each of the big kudus has, as an inset, a panchara (like a turret) with a deity housed in it; and the top of the kudu touches the cornice of the second tala, and from behind the kudu rises the second tala there is a figure-niche flanked by a rearing lion (sardula) on each side.

On the outer walls of the ardhamandapa, there are two more devakoshtas adorned with porches resting on pillars, similar to those of the garbhagriha but not projecting so prominently forward. Ardhanari (south) and Alinginamurti (north) are housed in these niches.

The walls of the garbhagriha and the ardhamandapa are covered with sculptures in bas relief. Ganapati and Agastya are found one on either side of the Ardhanari -koshta (on the south face). The squat standing figure of Ganapati has four hands, holding ankusa, pasa, a broken tusk and a sweet cake respectively. Agastya, a burly figure, is seated, with his two hands carrying the akshamala and the kamandalu. He has jatamakuta and necklaces and he wears an udarabandha round his corpulent belly. His drapery is vividly indicated by wavy lines. Uma-Sahitar is in another niche. Correspondingly on the north side, there are sculptures of Bhikshatanar, Alinginamurti, Gangadharar, and Durga. A description of these icons is given later in the section.

Further, on the walls of the temple, there are a series of sculptures of rishis and devalas who are believed to have done penance in this place during the various aeons (yugas). Under the base of each figure, there is a label in Tamil and Grantha characters of the twelfth century giving the name of the figure. These are the names inscribed: Oromaya Maharishi (Romapada), Devendra, Surya and Chandra in the Treta Yuga, Parvataraja and the Ashta-kula-parvatas in the Dvapara Yuga and Patanjali-deva in the Kali Yuga. A similar tradition is found in Brahmadesam, in the North Arcot district. An inscription found on the north wall of the temple of Chandramoulisvara there registers the building of that temple in the Kali Yuga at the spot where Agni, Chandra and Romasamuni worshipped the God Pondanatha in the Krita, Treta and Dvapara Yugas (ARE 196 of 1915; also 109 of 1946-47).

Below the cornice of the first, there are bracket figures resting on the palagai of the pilasters. They comprise rampant lions and dancing female figures in supple as well as vigorous poses.

The second tala rests on the walls of the garbhagriha. In earlier Chola temples, generally a series of miniature shrines called salas (rectangular in shape and wagon-roofed) in the centre and karnakutas (square shrines with curvilinear on either side of the sala are mounted in the first tala over the garbhagriha wall. There are no such miniature shrines in this temple. But there are four figure-niches (koshtas) in each of the main cardinal points; further, there are four pancharas (a single tala porch with cornice, griva, cupola-like sikhara, and circular stupi), one at each of the four corners, between the koshtas. There is a rearing lion on either side of the panchara. The arrangement of the second tala here is unique, and marks a new stylistic development in Dravidian architecture.

The outer side of the cornice of the second tala has a corrugated finish and is octagonal in shape. Over another yali frieze rests the griva. There are four figure-niches and four sculptures in the round. Local people say that these are dikpalakas, but it has not been possible for us to verify this. The present is circular, with four kudus at the cardinal points. It is, however, of recent origin and it seems likely that the original sikhara was also octagonal so as to be in harmony with the cornice of the second tala. The copper stupi is also modern.

The pilasters are heavy and octagonal in shape. Eacl of them, including the shaft, is covered with scrolls and sculpture^ in bas-relief. The base has a floral scroll. Above this there is sculpture-panel with two Kons at the end and with three crowning'^ elements; again another set of panels of miniature-sculptures \ like Urdhva-Tandava of Nataraja, Lingodbhavar, and other figures. The kalasam (of the pilasters) is also octagonal and adorned with scrolls. Equally so, the kumudam. Above this there is a well-developed padma-idal (lotus-petal) on which rests the thin palagai (abacus). Bracket-figures—dancing figures with players on musical instruments—adorn the gap between the palagai and the cornice.


This temple is rich in sculptures which could be definitely dated. The more important ones are briefly described below:

Jnana Dakshinamurti: This image of Siva is placed in the southern koshta of the garbhagriha. Siva sits under a spreading tree, his right leg resting on his left thigh. He wears a and the matted ends of his locks fall on both sides of his head. His front right hand is in the chinmudra pose, and he holds a puslaka, a sarpa and agni in his other hands. Nandi is to the proper right, and the Apasmara-purusha is pressed down under the right foot.

Durga: The sculpture is in a northern devakoshta. The head of the buffalo is shown separately below the pedestal on which the Devi stands. There is a spirited lion (her vehicle) behind her.- She wears a karanda-makuta, necklaces, a breast-band, the channavira, armlets and wristlets. The antariya is well-designed. She has six hands. Her front right hand is in abhaya pose; the other two right hands carry khadga, and chakra with flames on its rim. The front left hand is in the katyavalambita pose and, of the other two left hands, one carries sankha with flames and the other is in the kataka pose.

Ardhanari: “When Siva is united to Sakti, He is able to create; otherwise He is unable even to move,” says Sankaracharya. This figure has two hands on the right and one on the left. Though this sculpture is not as good as its counterparts on the Dharmaraja Ratha, at the Nagesvara temple at Kumbakonam and at the Muvarkoyil at Kodumbalur, this is a good specimen of the twelfth century a.d.

Alinginamurti: The Devi is seated on the lap of Siva. Siva has knicker-like dhoti and Parvati has drapery with wavy folds. Siva’s yajnopavita is a thick band. His right hand is extended to the Devi’s chin in a caressing gesture.

Gangadhara: This panel represents Siva receiving the Ganga, and Parvati is in an agitated and jealous mood on seeing Her rival.

Ganapati: In addition to the devakoshta Ganapati with four hands, there is another, more interesting, one. It is a sitting figure in the sub-shrine in the south-west corner of the temple. The right leg is raised and the left bent. It has two hands and the right holds a broken tusk, and the left a noose. 11 is a valampuri type of Ganapati. Perhaps this is a Parivaradevala figure of the old Early Chola temple. There is also a stone sculpture of Bhairavi in the premises of the temple.

Bas reliefs:

There are a few scenes from the lives of the Tamil saints depicted in bas-relief on the plinth. One depicts a linga worshipped by devotees. In another, an old man is shown prostrate before a young man who wields an axe. It seems to tell the story of Chandesvara who, offended at the insult to the linga offered by his father, cut off his father’s leg. Another batch seems to depict two stories. One panel portrays a person trying to prise out an eyeball with an arrow, in the presence of the linga. It is an illustration of the story of Kannappa Nayariar. By its side there is a linga in a slanting position, and a person with the help of a rope tries to restore it to its upright position. This illustrates the legend of a female devotee named Tatakai connected with the Lord of the temple of Tiruppanandal. She used to adorn the Lord with a garland every day. It so happened one day that her slipped at the time of her adoration. The Lord, to protect her modesty, turned His face away. The efforts of all the local people including the king failed to bring the linga to its original upright position. At last the efforts of Kunkiliyakkalaya Nayanar were crowned with success.


There are some fine bronzes also in this temple. The Alinginamurti is a fine set and may belong to the Early Chola period. Saint Manikkavachakar, Bhikshatanar, Vrishabhavahanar,\ Nataraja and dancing Balasubrahmanyar may be assigned to\ about the twelfth century a.d. Parvati may be of a later period.

Pala Nataraja: There is another interesting bronze, of Siva dancing on Nandi. The style of the figures, the prabha and the attendant deities seem to indicate its Pala origin. It is likely to have been a trophy brought by Rajendra I in the course of his expedition to the Gangetic delta and presented to this temple (situated so close to the new Chola capital of Gangaikondasolapuram). There is a similar sculpture in the Dacca Museum which P.R. Srinivasan has reproduced in Roopa Lekha (Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Fig. 1, against page 6). It is also of Siva dancing on Nandi. It has ten hands. It is in the chatura pose. There is no Apasmara Purusha to dance on, as in South Indian figures. The right hand—not the left—is in the gajahasta posture. Both the sculptures carry the same weapons, though some hands of the Dacca Museum sculpture are broken. There is an additional chain of bells attached to the hind portion of the Dacca figure. Two Gandharvas with garlands in their hands are shown flying, in the prabha portion. While there is only Parvati by the side of Siva in the Dacca sculpture, the Melakkadambur bronze has eight small devotees keeping step with the Divine Dancer. This metal is similar in form to, but more graceful, less ornamented and has better finish than, the Dacca sculpture. This posture of the dancing Siva was popular in Bengal in the 9th and 10th centuries a.d. (See also plate XLIV, Siva dancing on Nandi, Chapter IX, Art of Bengal, and Trouvailles de Medoungadou, Tandavas of Siva by P.Z. Pattabhiramin, Pondicherry). There is a figure of Siva dancing on Nandi in the Papanasi temple in the Lingaraja temple campus at Bhubaneswar, and another in the Kapilesvara temple situated 1 $ km. to the south of the Lingaraja temple. (See Archaeological Remains at Bhubaneswar by K.C. Panigrahi, pp. 49-50 and 175.)

A New Architectural Tradition:

This brief account will bring out the noteworthy features of this temple. It is a dated one built before the forty-first year of Kulottunga I. It is in stone and its vimana is fashioned like a chariot—the earliest experiment in this new style of temple architecture so far known. The outer walls are studded with sculptures. The devakoshtas have projecting porches surmounted with big kudus which have again niche-figures as insets. The second tala has new features, with koshtas in the centre and pancharas having cupolalike sikharas at the four corners. These features make this temple very important from the point of view of evolution of South Indian architecture. Here Architecture and Sculpture are so intimately blended that their distinction loses its meaning. This is one of the best-preserved and the finest of existing temples of the age of Kulottunga I.

The temple of Balesvar built by Chavundarasa at Haragoudi (about a.d. 1090?) is said to have resembled the vimana of Devendra—which perhaps means that the whole structure was designed as a flying car complete with wheels and horses (See Early History of the Deccan, edited by G. Yazdani—p. 426; SII, IX, (i), 163, pp. 19-20).

A distant descendant of Kulottunga I on the female line and a famous Eastern Ganga ruler, Narasimha, built an incomparable Sun temple in the form of a ratha at Konark (Orissa, 13th century a.d.), There is a Ratha-mandapa at Hampi, and a Garuda shrine in the shape of a ratha at Tadpatri (16th century a.d.) in Andhra Pradesh. Melakkadambur set the pace for the ratha vimana type of temples.

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